Manoj Viswanathan, professor and co-director of UC Hastings Law’s Center on Tax Law, has been named the school’s 2020 Rutter Award recipient. Founded by law-guide publisher William Rutter in 1979, the award honors outstanding professors at California’s top law schools. The Rutter Endowment provides UC Hastings an annual award of $10,000 for its winner.
According to the terms of the gift, the outstanding professor is to be chosen by a committee consisting of the academic dean, a student, an alumnus, and the prior year’s winner. This year’s selection committee consisted of Professor Carol Izumi (2019 recipient), Jacob Hirsch ’18, ASUCH President Madison Miller, and Academic Dean Morris Ratner.
“It was a very tough decision this year, as it is every year,” Ratner said. “So many of our faculty members put their hearts and souls into teaching and teaching well.”
In selecting Viswanathan, the committee focused on factors including the quality of student feedback on his teaching, the broad range of his teaching, and his willingness to adopt innovative teaching methods.
Viswanathan, who joined the UC Hastings faculty in Fall 2015, said he is thankful for the recognition and has been impressed by how everyone at the law school has gone out of their way to rise to the challenges the pandemic presented.
“I’m just one of many people the award could have been given to,” Viswanathan said. “I’m extremely fortunate to work closely with two amazing people – Heather Field and Alina Ball – who have been models for me on how to be empathetic and how to teach.”
Viswanathan helped establish the law school’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic in June 2020 by applying for an Internal Revenue Service grant and hiring its director, Amy Spivey. The grant was recently renewed for a three-year term. In addition to directly representing clients in their tax cases, students also complete community service projects to help educate disadvantaged taxpayers about their rights and responsibilities.
Besides teaching clinical and doctrinal tax courses, Viswanathan teaches contracts law to first-year students and an asynchronous applied contracts course involving video-recorded lectures that students watch on their own time.
“He never stops asking the question, ‘how can I make the community I’m part of better,’” said Ball, founding director of the Social Enterprise & Economic Empowerment Clinic. “In that way he’s really motivated to continue to find new ways to contribute.”
Field, co-director of the Center on Tax Law Field, credited him with inspiring students to pursue careers in tax; creating an experiential simulation module to accompany his Nonprofit Organizations lecture course; and co-creating the Business Tax Practicum, in which students provide tax advice to social enterprises.
“These experiential tax courses are quite novel, and Manoj’s work creating these courses means that UC Hastings provides tax learning opportunities that very few other law schools can,” Field said. “Manoj cares deeply for his students, and he is an outstanding teacher in both lecture classes and experiential courses.”
In their evaluations, tax students said Viswanathan helped make dry subject matter interesting and accessible. They described him as patient, friendly, and knowledgeable, with a sense of humor that put them at ease. “I truly loved this class and this subject a lot more than I thought I would, going into it,” one student wrote, “and a lot of that was because of how Professor V taught it.”
His first-year contract students said they appreciated the way he helped them understand real-world applications as well as the underlying legal concepts. “Professor V is exceptionally kind, practical, and pragmatic,” one student wrote. “This was a very challenging semester given the many external factors we were all dealing with, but Professor V continually encouraged us through it all.”
Viswanathan previously taught at Yale Law School, where he was a clinical teaching fellow and lecturer and co-teacher of the Community and Economic Development clinic. Before joining academia, Viswanathan worked as a tax associate with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom LLP’s New York City office. He received his LLM and JD from New York University School of Law and undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He will be honored at an award ceremony via Zoom on March 25, 2021.